A timelessly tacky broad comedy, Rat Race opens with a credit sequence featuring cartoon representations of its cast engaging in comical antics backed by zany sound effects, immediately establishing a tone of strained wackiness from which it seldom wavers. Ostensibly designed as an all-star homage to It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Rat Race co-stars John Cleese as a zany billionaire who brings together six disparate characters to compete in a race to win $2 million. Among those chosen are a straight-arrow (Breckin Meyer) who teams with a pretty but volatile pilot (Amy Smart), a con man (Seth Green) and his brother, and a bumbling referee (Cuba Gooding Jr., who endures a nonstop stream of humiliation symbolic of his post-Oscar career). Also along for the chase are Rowan Atkinson as a beatific man-child with Benigni-like inflections, a Nazi-obsessed father (Jon Lovitz) and his son, and Whoopi Goldberg, playing a gullible mother reunited with her cynical daughter. The premise owes quite a bit to Mad World, as well as to a certain '80s franchise involving Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, and a Las Vegas strip's worth of washed-up celebrities. But where Mad World boasted a three-hour running time, outsized ambition, and a series of cameos from Hollywood legends, Rat Race winds up at just under two hours of frenetic flailing, possesses zero ambition, and features cameos from the likes of Dean Cain and Paul Rodriguez. Screenwriter Andy Breckman introduces a germ of a good idea—having Cleese use the racers as pawns in an even bigger game by allowing high-stakes gamblers to bet on the race's outcome—but never exploits a fraction of its satiric potential. Director Jerry Zucker keeps Race moving at a brisk pace, but only so much can be done with a film in which seemingly half the scenes involve characters screaming and bugging their eyes out while crashing kooky vehicles. Rat Race does, however, feature both a guest appearance from Smash Mouth and a rendition of the band's little-known song "All Star," fittingly winding down a Shrek-dominated summer season that's been as bad for Hollywood as it's been good for Smash Mouth.
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